23 January 2013

Zimbabwe: Agric Sector Still in Crisis - CFU

THE continued uncertainty over the country's land reform programme has left the agricultural sector in turmoil, 13 years since government embarked on agrarian reforms under which white-owned farms were forcibly expropriated for the resettlement of blacks, the Commercial Farmers Union (CFU) has said.

In 2000 agricultural production was 4,2 million tonnes but production has declined steadily over the years to about 2,1 million tonnes in 2012, contributing to the deteriorating food security situation. Late and erratic rains, poor agricultural practices, constrained access to inputs, and a reduction in planted area have all contributed to a reduction of the national cereal harvest by 33 percent last year.

CFU president Charles Taffs said agriculture has been the back bone of Zimbabwe's economy. Ho-wever, the nationalisation and acquisition of some 11,8 million hectares of commercial farm land, which was previously held under free hold title, has seen the end of secure property rights and of investor confidence not only in agriculture but across all sectors.

"The rural infrastructure is collapsing, thousands of kilometers of fencing have been removed, conservation land laws are being openly disregarded with dire environmental consequences, earthen dam walls are becoming unstable due to little or no maintenance over the period, all leading to the well publicised serious agricultural deficits as well as mass migration from rural land to the towns and cities, putting those very towns and cities under increasing infrastructural pressure," Taffs said.

"For the past 13 years Zimbabwe has been a net importer of basic food commodities we believe largely due to the result of the negative impact of the fast track land reform programme on investor confidence."

Despite the heavy rains, Taffs predicted another poor agricultural season for Zimbabwe.

"We are now in the middle of the 2012/2013 agricultural season and despite the recent good rains we will again be turning to the donor community for food assistance and as a farming community in partnership with our government it is our combined duty and responsibility to supply raw materials for industry and export as well as to adequately feed the nation. We are quite clearly failing. We at the CFU firmly believe that this situation need not continue and that a solution to this crisis can be found," he added.

The CFU president ca-lled for a fair, all inclusive, focused and implementable short term solution, which will be able to re-establish an active land market on the back of which a strong financial industry can be launched.

"It must provide a platform upon which all sectors can thrive; it must also re-establish lost values placing those values back into the economy for the benefit of all. This solution must re-establish the basic fundamental foundations needed for rapid economic recovery and economic gain those being sound property rights," he said.

Taffs urged all farmers to take advantage of the rising global food demand together with the rising commodity prices, "we as a country have massive po-tential to take advantage of this phenomenon."

Although government has refused to pay compensation to former white commercial farmers for im-provements made on farms before the land reform exercise, Taffs said, it was key to the revival of the agricultural sector and investor confidence.

"Government's inability and failure to pay compensation and bring closure to the acquisition process has crippled the institutional capacity to lend into this sector. National collateral has effectively been undermined and all agricultural land in Zimbabwe is now an impaired economic asset, while lending to the agricultural sector has become excessively constrained and is heavily risk loaded resulting in massive limitations to production.

Compensation is expe-cted to give finality to the land question in Zimbabwe and give current farmers security of tenure, allowing them to fully invest on the land knowing the ownership part is solved permanently. Uncertainties in land ownership have been hampering productivity on the farms as farmers could not fully commit their reso-urces on land for which they have no secure titles.

The Agricultural Recov-ery and Compensa-tion, a unit of the CFU, is demanding US$10 billion compensation from the government for land seized.

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